Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 16: Repubblica Del Ragazzi

I originally got signed up for the Repubblica Del Ragazzi visit because it was an alternate.  After spending a few hours there today, I'm really glad I went.  The facility is an orphanage/transition home for kids ages 6-17.  There are currently 32 residents an most are the result of unstable or nonexistent families.  We had a tour of the facility (it's quite pretty being right on the coast) and got a chance to interact with a few of the residents.  It was a little difficult because they didn't speak English but we were able to make it work.  Many of them have pretty significant psychological problems and I was able to talk with two of the administrators/psychologists (both spoke English thankfully) and they provided lot of great info that will come in handy for an Abnormal Psych Field Report.  As a thank you, SAS provided a pretty significant donation to the home.

This afternoon proved to be an adventure of a different kind.  I've been attempting to buy the train tickets for our trip to Venice in a few days but was running into trouble online.  Today I walked down to the Civitavecchia Train Station and attempted to buy tickets from Naples to Venice for later this week.  I was really hoping somebody spoke English but that wasn't the case.  Somehow through very rudimentary Italian and hand motions I was actually able to get the tickets.  I know it's not that great of a story but you have no idea how proud of myself I was.

I don't have anything officially planned for tomorrow.  There's a day trip to Orvieto (halfway between Rome and Florence) and if somebody doesn't show up I'll be able to hop on for free.  Hopefully that will work out.  That's all for now, I'm enjoying the quiet of a nearly empty ship.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 15: Civitavecchia

Just a quick note: "Day 12: Toledo" does exist, it just didn't get posted for some reason.  It should be available now.

Sometime in the night we arrived in Civitavecchia, also known as the Port of Rome.  Rome is actually about an hour away by train or bus, but Civ is the closest major port and cruise terminal.  Since it's a holiday here (some Saint's day) the Embassy didn't feel like coming out and giving a Diplomatic Briefing so we went off the info provided in our logistical pre-port last night.  This is a unique port because most of the action is in Rome and there's not constant transportation.  In addition, most people want to see as much of Italy as possible so there's a lot of optional travel around the country occurring.  To make things even more complicated the ship will sail to Naples in a few days to change ports (and create a customs nightmare for the staff).  I'm keeping it pretty low-key (and hopefully inexpensive) since I did the major sites in Italy two years ago.

For that reason I tried to find the most obscure trips to take and started off this morning with a tour of the Taurine Baths and a Civitavecchia walking tour.  It was a great tour; I can honestly not think of a better way to enter Italy.  Instead of battling the sweat and crowds of Rome, I was in a group of about 25 that visited the ruins of the Roman Taurine Baths just outside of town here in Civ.  It is a very small operation and I think we were the only tour that day.  The Baths were typical ruins and neat to look but the guides and people were incredibly friendly.  After walking around for a while, they set up a tent and had samples of all kinds of typical Italian drinks and different foods.  It was really relaxing to sit around, sample, and chat for a few hours with a nice ocean breeze. 

We later took a bus back into Civ for a walking tour.  The town is small and gets a lot of criticism for there being "nothing to do," but I really like its overall feel (it's also one of the safest cities in Italy).  It's so much less touristy and does have some interesting sites like buildings designed by Michelangelo and a cool little (free) museum of Etruscan artifacts.  We had a great and hardy Italian lunch (most people thought the antipasto was the actual meal...they were a little surprised three courses later) and we let free to roam.  Since most of the people I typically hang out with are off on longer Italy trips I was proud of myself and actually socialized with other people and found a good group to get lost in Civ with.  We walked for a few hours, got the necessary gelato, and made the trek back to the ship.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled for a service visit of a youth transition home outside of Rome.  It should be an interesting experience, I'll let you know how that goes.  Thursday I'm hoping somebody cancels a trip to Orvieto so I can pick up a free ticket and tag along.  If that doesn't work out I'll probably find some people to explore Rome with.  Friday I'll also be in Rome with a group and Saturday the ship will arrive in Naples.  I have a tour of the city and the Teatro San Carlo (famous opera house) lined up there.  We're still fleshing out details on the Venice excursion but that should happen Sunday and Monday.  That's all I have for now, I definitely could use some rest.

Day 14: Italy Day

The day at sea between Spain and Italy is known as "Italy Day" because Italy is all we talk about.  There are no classes but a bunch of sessions on all things Italian: history, culture, tourist stuff, etc.  They even serve Italian food which isn't real popular because nobody wants fake Italian food when we get to have the real stuff the next day.

I got up early and hit the gym before attending a mandatory session on "intercultural misunderstandings."  It was basically a presentation of how ignorant and pompous Americans are.  They might have well just had us look around the room for a few minutes and it would have been equally effective.  The next one was a session on Italian folk music.  It was pretty interesting how much difference there is between Northern and Southern Italy.  Finally I went to a session by an inter-port Italian student with some general info about the culture, lifestyle, where to eat, best gelato, and so on.  Overall there was some good information.

The rest of the day I was starting to contemplate some of the papers for FDPs I'll have to produce as well as an upcoming Global Studies midterm that most people are pretending doesn't exist because life is happier that way.  I guess I'll allow a little homework between ports.  I'm also working with a few others to figure out the logistics for an independent trip to Venice.  We have some inside info and are hopefully able to snag a pretty good deal.  Even though I was there two years ago it was one of my highlights and would love to do it again.  That's all for now, we're off to Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 13: Barcelona and Healthcare Policy

The last morning in Barcelona didn't offer too much time but we made the best of it.  While many people had most of the day, I had two FDPs (Faculty Directed Practica) to attend in the afternoon so I had to be back on board the ship by noon.  In the morning we decided to take the Metro back Sagrada Familia to tour the inside.  The interior is slated to be finished within a few months and it's really looking nice.  It is very unlike any other cathedral I've seen and has a distinctly modern touch.  It's probably because it's new, but the stained glass was incredibly vibrant and lit up the whole place.  The construction of the building is solely funded by tourist entrance fees, and it was well worth it to contribute.  There is also a mini Gaudi museum downstairs and it was interesting seeing some of his actual drawings.  After departing we grabbed a quick lunch, picked up some pens, and made the way back to the ship.

My first FDP was a lecture by a public health official from the Spanish Government.  He had some really interesting information on how infectious disease is handled and some of the protocol in Spain/Europe versus the US.  The H1N1 situation last year really injured the image of many public health agencies and this effect is especially bad in Europe.  It's also interesting to see how the universal healthcare system present in many European countries arguably makes them more prepared to successfully handle a major pandemic if it should occur.  Let me know if you want more details, we'll chat.

The second FDP was a presentation and discussion about the mental health response in a humanitarian crisis by a representative from Doctors Without Borders.  There were a lot of really powerful stories and pictures.  Some of the policy relating to global mental health was also good to hear.

We departed later in the evening to calm Mediterranean waters.  I officially declare Barcelona a success.  I believe there were about 60 incidents in total (theft, assault, drugs, medical, etc) which is about average for the first port.  Luckily I wasn't (a) drunk or (b) stupid so we didn't really run into any problems.  Spain was great...on to Italy!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 12: Toledo

Toledo has a very different feel than the other large Spanish cities we visited. Part of it may be that it's not that physically large, but it does have a lot of rich history. There's a whole bunch of detail I could probably go into but we'll just say it is a former capitol and has influences from many different religions. We departed the hotel in Madrid for a 70km drive through the Spanish countryside. It reminded me a little bit of Tuscany but was distinctly different (good in its own way). Toledo was founded by the Romans and many of the structures are still standing including one of the major bridges we drove over. I actually felt more confident driving over a 2000 year old Roman bridge than one made 20 years ago in the US. It's something about the whole Roman thing.

We were told that the view from an adjacent mountain was one of the three best in Europe. I haven't been around much, but I'd probably believe it. There was a gorgeous panoramic view of the city and the eclectic mix of older architecture. From here we started the actual city walking tour. The cathedral is very nice and in it we discovered yet another shrine to Greco. Outside in the a city square we ran into an interesting protest. Apparently it's Pride Week in Spain. The rally we walked into was pretty mild but I heard from people back in Barcelona there some rather interesting tactics, such as the lack of clothing, used to gather attention. Anyways, I really enjoyed walking around the small streets, dodging rouge taxis, and looking into all the different stores. We visited a local synagog that actually used to be a mosque. Like I said, there were many different religious influences and they tended to reuse buildings. Next door was a very peaceful monastery which was also nice to walk around a bit. I think the reason I liked Toledo was the "older" feeling and even though there probably was, it seemed like there wasn't as much tourist stuff going on.

Lunch was served at a really nice restaurant inside a local hotel. Although it didn't apply to me, they were a bit more understanding of the two vegetarians in our group. The previous day our waiter decided to create a rather dramatic scene by yelling at our group for making him throw together two extra salads. The Toldeo lunch included about half a chicken for each person. I'm actually not exaggerating this; there was more chicken on my plate than I've ever seen before. It was good but the group could have probably done with about a third the amount. After lunch was the drive back the the Madrid airport and our flight back to Barcelona. Apparently the Madrid-Barcelona route is known to have some turbulence and we were really bouncing around up there. I've decided this is not a good voyage for anybody with motion sickness issues.

After arriving in Barcelona we battled the crowds and finally got to dinner. I say "finally" in an American sense, we actually arrived about 10:30pm, right on time for our Spaniard friends. The meat paella didn't disappoint and we took a nice little evening walk around Barcelona before calling it a night.

Day 11: Madrid

Daniel, Lacey and I had an early morning start for our trip to Madrid.  We were supposed to take the high speed train (which I was actually looking forward to) but there was a last minute strike so we somehow managed to get plane tickets that morning for the 25 people going.  The 40 minute flight went well and, in typical European fashion, was delayed.  On arrival we were picked up by our guide and bus before immediately starting a city tour.  I'll be honest; I don't think anybody was overly impressed by the guide.  She had a lot of great information but the delivery style wasn't very effective.  Besides this, all went pretty well.  The first stop was the famous Prado Museum.  We got a guided tour and spent a good amount of time looking around.  It's filled with the work of Spaniards and has a lot of space devoted to Greco, Valasquez, and Goya.  We went to a "typical Spanish restaurant" for lunch  near a plaza with a cool Neptune statue.  The food was good, and it was all fish (not really a bad thing but seems to be a common theme for Spain).  I wish I remembered the name of the tapas but it was essentially pureed fish stuffed inside peppers.  After lunch, there was still plenty to see.

Madrid is filled with really interesting plazas, each with some sort of statue or fountain in the center.  We drove through a number of the well known plazas and one thing I noticed in Madrid as well as Barcelona is the lack of corners at intersections.  We were told it's to conserve space and it does make for an interesting variation in traffic flow.  We passed through the Modern District including the Picasso Tower and some really interesting buildings surrounding Castillo Square.  The main soccer (futbol) stadium in Madrid is enormous; it rivals many major US stadiums.  Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to walk inside due to preparations of the screening of the big Spain match that evening (more on that later).  We continued to the Arena for a photo-op.  Bullfighting still happens on a weekly basis in Madrid but, as I mentioned earlier, it's quickly dying.  The Gran Via was buzzing with activity as it contains some of the major buildings and stores.  A stop was also made at the Royal Palace and the adjacent cathedral before proceeding to Sol, the city center of Madrid.  The "old Madrid" section of town has a distinctly Spanish look to it and as we were driving through there were already preparations for the big game later that evening.

After arriving and settling into the hotel we didn't waste anytime before heading out into the city.  The bus ride was nice but I wanted to get a better feel of everything by walking around a bit.  We walked down to the Gran Via for a little while and back to the hotel to meet up with some other SASers.  One girl who has family in Spain and is fluent in Spanish organized a group to take the Metro (underground) to Sol (the geographic and cultural center of Madrid) to watch the game in a restaurant/bar.  I was expecting the whole atmosphere of the city to be really insane.  It wasn't quite as bad as it could have been but was still pretty wild.  We were in a minority not dressed in Spain jerseys and when Spain scored you could hear cheering down the whole street.  We had a lot of fun, it was a pretty cool cultural experience.  After the game we made the trek back to the hotel to watch a Tonight Show episode from the 90s on the only English channel and get some much needed rest.

Day 10: Barcelona

My apologies for the delay.  I was hoping to catch up in Madrid but we weren't able to get internet.  The morning we sailed into Barcelona a few of us got up early to see the sunrise and distant land.  It was well worth it; there are few things that beat the beauty of a sunrise at sea and the far off view of land.  About an hour after the sunrise, the port authorities from Barcelona pulled up next to our ship and a "port guide" jumped over from their small boat onto ours.  His purpose was to assist in piloting the ship into the rather large port.  We eventually ported successfully and were met by Spanish customs and diplomats.  There was a "diplomatic briefing" about some current events and concerns in Spain before the ship was cleared and we were free to go.

I had a few hours before the start of the "City Orientation" I was signed up for and met with a few others to go out and explore a bit.  There's a 24 hour shuttle from the ship to the Placa de Colom near the base of town, it's very helpful.  For a while we looked around "La Rambla," the major tourist street that was extremely busy.  We stumbled upon a restaurant and got some tapas, croquettes in my case.  They were pretty good, but I had much better later on.  After that, Lacey (CLU) and Heather (from Cal Baptist), who were also going on the orientation, made our way back to the ship to meet the tour.

Barcelona is a very interesting city.  It's the Catalonian region of Spain which has historically been very independent from the rest of the nation.  This is evident in the use of the Catalonian language instead of Spanish the majority of the time.  Despite this, Spanish and English are still common.  The orientation started off by driving up Monjuic, home of the '92 Olympic Stadium and the National Palace.  We saw these and got a great panoramic view of the city.  From here we proceeded down to a popular tourist site known as the "Spanish Village."  It's basically a large patch of land divided into the different regions of Spain with little bits of architecture and culture from each.  The tour continued by passing the Arena which was previously home to bullfights.  In recent years many Spanish regions have outlawed bullfights and there is a large movement to eradicate them altogether.  Some more conservative areas still perform them weekly.  We drove through the Modern District and saw some really great impressive buildings.  During the time of their construction it was the law that they be designed to look "beautiful."  We saw some famous Gaudi houses and while we didn't get a chance to go into any, the exterior views are amazing.

The highlight of the day (and probably Barcelona) was Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that began construction in the late 1800s and is not expected to be finished until around 2030.  The eclectic design is absolutely incredible as it is one of the most unique pieces of architecture in the world.  We then took a small break at a cool little chocolate shop.  I got an interesting iced coffee drink and had to try the fresh churros dipped in chocolate.  Approval granted.  St. James Square was the next stop followed by the Barcelona Cathedral.  The latter stops were in Barri Gothic which sported a good collection of Gothic architecture (big surprise) and was probably one of my favorite areas in the city.

After returning to the ship for a little while, a group of us headed out to find dinner.  We went to a place that was recommend by an inter-port lecturer and it did not disappoint.  While I'm usually not overly experimental when it comes to seafood, I had to the Seafood Paella and was amazing.  I also tried out a bit of a friend's Octopus and some other tapas.  It was one of the better meals I've had.  After dinner we set out for quite a walk; we had a late Flamenco Show reserved and I wanted to see a few other sights like the Arc de Triomf and famous Modern Palau de Musica Catalana (didn't get to see a concert, maybe a future trip).  Even though it was a bit touristy, The Flamenco was pretty neat.  It's amazing how athletic (aka spastic feet) some of the dancers are.  They go on and on and aren't even out of breath at the end.  After the show we made are way back to the ship to conclude a very long yet productive and fun first day in Spain.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 9: Pre-Port and Cartwheels

As I write I'm sitting on one of the outer decks watching Daniel (former fellow RA from CLU) and a few others attempt cartwheels.  I realize that anybody reading this probably could care less but the image is so entertaining I have to share.  Just imagine me attempting to complete a cartwheel and I think you'll get an idea of what this is like.  This whole situation is a prime example of the madness that 9 days at sea can instill in people.  I've said it in the last few posts, but I can't wait to get on land.

We had our official "logistical pre-port" session tonight.  It was pretty long and  literally filled with a hundred questions (yet there always seems to be more).  We will dock at 8:00am, go through customs, attend a diplomatic session, and hopefully be able to get off the ship by 10:00am.  I spent most of today researching sites in Barcelona and actually had lunch with a professor of Spanish culture and history (knighted by the Spanish king) at UVA who is one of our inter-port lecturers.  We got a lot of good advice and tips.  It will be especially interesting to be in Madrid on Friday night when Spain has a World Cup match.

The Abnormal test I had to day went well, it was about what I was expecting.  It's pretty obvious that profs and students alike are anxious for tomorrow.  Given all the upcoming ports and activities, I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to fly by.  I'll try to update as possible and hopefully get some pictures up with land-based internet.  There's a group of us tomorrow morning that are waking up early (no more 23 hour days for a while!) to see the sunrise and watch the process of being guided into port.  That's all for now, the adventures are just beginning.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 8: Gibraltar

Land!  We're not walking on it yet but at least it's in sight.  This afternoon we sailed through the busy passage of water separating Africa and Europe that leads into the Mediterranean.  I knew it would happen sometime in the afternoon but had a precious (and very difficult to get) time slot at the gym around the expected arrival time.  So I proceeded to work out with ears open and the the camera ready to go.  Sure enough the announcement came and I was able to run off to check out the sights.  It was pretty overcast and hideously windy so the visibility wasn't great but you could see the two continents as we passed through the 8 mile wide straight.  Even with some of the fog, the famous Rock of Gibraltar was clear as we sailed by.  We're currently in the Mediterranean a few miles off the Spanish coastline and slated to arrive in Barcelona tomorrow night.

We had some really good pre-port sessions tonight including a talk by a Spanish college student and some safety tips by a ex-LAPD detective who works for UVA and has been around the world a few times.  Both had some interesting and helpful information.  Tomorrow is actually the last day of class for almost two weeks.  There's obviously no class in port and the one travel day to Italy is a "study day."  It's going to be pretty tough to focus again after we leave Naples.

That's all for now, I have an exam in Abnormal Psych tomorrow so I should probably put in some study time.

Day 7: Extended Family

Today again proved to be another pretty typical day. The ocean in the morning was very smooth, it had a nice glassy touch to it. This evening has been another story. There's a storm behind us so the winds have picked up considerably and we're staring to rock & roll again (thankfully just rock for now). Tomorrow or tomorrow night we should be entering the Straight of Gibraltar so we'll be very close to land and doing a semi-circle around Spain until reaching Barcelona.

I signed up for an "extended family" program that pairs a few undergrads with life-long learners or faculty to create a social group you can occasionally meet with and get to know. We had our first dinner together tonight and I met my "parents," Jim and Lesley. They are from Irvine and he is a professor of comparative politics while she is the communications coordinator for the voyage (the one writing the voyage blog). They're really friendly, great people and a valuable resource as they've sailed before both as faculty/staff and as parents. There's also a few other students who are my "siblings" and I'm looking forward to meeting with them for a little debrief after each of the ports.

We got the list of confirmed side trips today and since it's kind of long I'll post it in chunks starting with Barcelona:

On arrival Thursday, June 24 I'm doing a city tour/orientation of Barcelona. A few of the other Cal Lu people were going to try to find a cheap Flamenco that evening to go see. June 25 and 26 I'll be doing a trip to Madrid and Toledo. On Sunday the 27th we'll have the morning to check out Barcelona some more and I have two seminars for classes that evening, one on infectious disease and the other by Doctors Without Borders. It's shaping up to be a pretty good time. I'll post the other cities as we get closer but if you really must know I can email a tentative itinerary for each port.

That's all for now, we have another full day at sea tomorrow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 6: Happy Fathers Day!

Besides celebrating fathers on and off the ship, today was a pretty typical day.  We had our first "map exam" in Global Studies.  Essentially it was a blank map of the Mediterranean and we had to fill in the major cities and seas.  It went pretty well, nothing too challenging.  Other tests are fast approaching.  While the ship appears to be moving pretty slow the classes go at warp speed. 

There have been numerous dolphin and whale sightings the past few days as we are now passing through some of the warmer more shallow waters found along the mid-oceanic ridge of the Atlantic.  I actually had a brief whale sighting this afternoon and saw three or four puffs of white water/air in the distance indicating more whales.  It was pretty quick for pictures but cool nonetheless.  I also came to the realization today that potatoes are served at every single meal here.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner...there's always some variation of roasted potatoes.  The food is good but I'm starting to get a bit tired of our starchy friends.

Since there wasn't anything else really exciting today I'll leave you with some of the demographics of our voyage that we got a few days ago.

Undergraduate Students—708
Undergraduate Female Students—531 (75%)
Graduate Students—28
Graduate Female Students—92%

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 5: Bridge Tour

On the first day we were told that dates and days of the week don't really matter since we'll completely forget them by the third or fourth day at sea.  While I didn't think this would be the case at the time, it's true.  Even though it's Saturday (I had to look it up), we had class because every day at sea is a class day.  For that reason, days at sea are numbered C1, C2, C3, etc.  It's a little weird having class on weekends but since there's no real week-like structure I guess it really doesn't matter that much.  All the classes went well today, I'm still enjoying the unique yet really informative professors.

A few of us sighed up for a tour of the bridge this afternoon, it was quite cool.  The 2nd Officer showed us around and pointed out what all the equipment does.  All of the navigation stuff (GPS and paper) is really interesting.  I got a picture in the captain's seat, it was rather entertaining.  We're told that the most important item on the bridge was not the compass, radar, radios, etc but the pot of coffee brewing toward the back.  Nice to know the folks at the controls require caffeine to keep us on course.

The Academic Dean for the voyage is a circus historian/scholar and brought one of his friends, a world renown professional clown, on the voyage to preform.  He did a show tonight with a Q&A afterward.  It was a good show (his specialty is shooting water from his mouth) and I never knew you could actually make a successful living as a clown, but apparently it's possible.  That's all for now, tonight is one of the few without a time change so I think I'll take advantage of all the sleep I can get.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 4: At Sea

Today was what can likely be described as an "average" day on the ship.  It started early with Infectious Disease (still a bit on the basic side), continued with Global Studies (is the Mediterranean considered a unified body or a collection of numerous cultures?), and the academic part of my day was finished by noon with Abnormal Psych.  Classes move very fast since there are only about 20 meetings with some field components.  Getting up early is tough (especially with the time changing almost every night) but it's nice to be done early.  Signing up for a spot at the gym takes quite a a process since there's so little room and high demand.  I had a treadmill this afternoon for a half hour and it proved to be quite the balance exercise.  Many of you know my balance follies just standing on land, let alone the difficulties of a treadmill.  Today I got to experience running in place in a small room filled with mirrors while rocking back and forth.  When I wasn't flailing for the arm rail it was actually quite fun.

I had the opportunity to have breakfast today with one of the life-long learners who sailed on a previous voyage as a Physician Assistant.  He was a lot of fun to talk to and had some great stories from his time on board with the medical team during the infamous Spring 05 voyage.  If you're curious, google "semester at sea storm stories."  Or don't until I get back, it's understandable.  There was a really great seminar this evening on the food of Spain including the proper eating schedule, what to definitely get and what to avoid.  It looks like there should be some pretty great meals to look forward to. 

It's odd how we've only been here for 4 days, it seems like so much longer.  The Spanish food talk tonight really got me excited for the upcoming ports.  We also had to turn in our field program requests for the later ports today so hopefully I got some good trips.  They'll be confirmed in a few days.  The bookstore opened yesterday but I didn't bother going in because the line was out the door but stopped by today and rummaged through what was left.  I came up with a pretty neat shirt with the flags of all the countries we're visiting across the front.  Any SAS apparel requests?  That's all for now, I hope all is well on land.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 3: The Start of Classes

I awoke this morning to the sounds of unsecured items tumbling across the room and the sensation of slipping down my bed.  The timing was actually pretty good since I had to get up anyway.  We hit some moderately rough waters but it has since been a bit smoother.

I started off the day with my Infectious Disease class.  It is pretty slow right now because we're going through some basic intro bio review but I'm sure it'll pick up when we get into the content.  I like the professor a lot; he's an older Scottish guy who always has a Nike sweat band around his head and does nightly star gazing sessions.  The global studies class will be interesting but likely a bit on the boring side.  The largest room on the ship holds about 400 people leaving the other 350 to be in designated satellite locations (classrooms, lounges, etc) where the lecture is broadcast.  Most of the orientation stuff was also done this way so I'm getting used to the different setup.  I'm also really looking forward to Abnormal Psych.  It's a very good professor and a lot of the course is going to cover comparative mental healthcare policy which will be really great because we'll get to see it in action among the different ports.  As part of the "normal vs. abnormal" lecture today a professional clown who happens to be an inter-port lecturer on the ship (your guess is as good as mine) stopped by to do a little demo.

The past few days it has been stressed that the main theme of Semester at Sea is flexibility.  Apparently a lot of things come up (international conflicts causing a change in port, etc) and it plays quite a bit into the classroom.  It's a very unique situation in class as the students run in and out to be sick and the teacher occasionally grasps on to the podium for balance as we hit a decent wave. 

All is going well, this is a great experience so far.  I went to a session on Spain tonight and followed it up with a trip to the observation deck for the Astronomy class lab (aka star gazing session) which is open to anyone.  Only 6 more days of seeing nothing but water until we get to Spain!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 2: Orientation

We've been at sea for over 30 hours now and it's quite fun watching people struggle to earn their "sea legs." I think my favorite moment was walking down one of the narrow hallways in a line of people and watching the line unintentionally curve and snake with the roll of the ship. Today was all orientation. Like any good orientation, it was long and hideously boring. I learned not to set the room on fire, keep fingers out of a doorway to avoid amputation, and how it's not a good idea hop over the deck railing. Apparently all these intelligent moves have been done on past voyages. I also got to listen to the infamous alcohol horror stories directed at the 21% of my peers that can be medically classified as alcoholics. A fun day indeed.

Not having the ability to use a cell phone has revealed how dependent we are on these little bits of technology. I didn't think I would have that big of a problem (and really don't) but have never before thought twice about planning something like a dinner time and place with others well in's always been done via text. Another good experience to add to the list.

There was an "involvement symposium" tonight and I signed up for a few interesting programs. In addition to the medicine interest group there were some neat looking faculty-student social opportunities and an "extended family" program that pairs students up with the life-long learners. I'll let you know how those go. It doesn't look like there's too much music going on here but I ask around occasionally. Maybe something will come up. Classes start tomorrow so I better be off to bed as we lose yet another hour to a time change tonight.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 1: Embarkation & Departure

The day began with Canadian Starbucks and ended with an crepes over choppy Atlantic waters. We're lucky we got a very early start. The walk from the hotel to the port wasn't very long but transporting three pieces of heavy luggage proved rather taxing. We arrived to the port and entered the seemingly endless check-in line. I surrendered my passport, got my SAS ID, had my luggage throughly searched, and was frisked before finally getting to board. As I said, we were lucky to start early and got on board by 10:00am. To give you an idea of how long this all took, the last people finally got on a few minutes before 4:00pm. The cabin is cozy but nice and my roommate is a pretty cool international student from Dubai. I think we'll get along well (except he's a Celtics fan...).

Following a lifeboat drill (which was handled by most with surprising maturity) we departed around 5:00pm. After the initial excitement of getting out to sea died down there was dinner followed by orientation meetings. Since I know the maternal side of my family will be wondering, the food is pretty good so far. There are four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night) and all are buffet style. Each day of the week has a food theme so I'm guessing we'll see some repeats in the future. The orientation meetings included a lot of introductions of administration, faculty, and various staff members. Besides the intros, they stressed two distinctions: (1) We're on a ship, a boat and (2) this is not a cruise but a voyage. We start early tomorrow with more orientation info before the start of classes on Thursday.

With 738 students on board, there are all types here. It's going to definitely be an interesting and good experience learning to live in such close quarters on this unique "shipboard community." I't's neat meeting a lot of new people and funny how the other CLU students and I tend to relate much better with people from smaller universities. I'm currently in my cabin experiencing the gentle rolls of the somewhat choppy Atlantic. As expected, the seas are getting a little worse as the evening progresses and we get further out. Some people are already having problems but I'm doing fine so far. That's all for now...I'm ready to call it a night.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 0: Halifax

There's really not much to do in Canada. Other than that, I really like it here. The 15% sales tax is a bit of a downer but it's very pretty and comfortable in the "pre-Summer" days. Apparently this north there are only about 2 months of recognized Summer. It's interesting to see/hear everything in English and French. In general the people live up to their Canadian stereotypes and are pretty friendly.

I got in late last night after a long day of flying and met with friends Daniel and Lacey from Cal Lu who are also going on SAS. There were quite a few fellow SASers on my flight here from Detroit and in the airport. The hotel we're in was recommended so the place is pretty much swarming with SAS people by now. I got lucky with all my luggage coming in appropriately because I've heard of quite a few problems already.

Today was spent exploring Halifax. The most "famous" site here is the Citadel. Halifax was a heavily defended British fort in the late 1800s. We took a tour and it was pretty interesting to hear how the geography was integrated into the defenses of the city. From there we walked over to the Museum of Natural History but a few people leaving mentioned it wasn't worth the money so we decided to head over to the Public Gardens. They were nicely done and had an interesting Titanic memorial. For some reason there are quite a few cemeteries around. A walk down to the port offered a quick gander at the ship which pulled in this morning. Our Halifax adventure concluded with a quite delicious plate of Nova Scotia Haddock before the rain began. Hopefully it'll clear up for tomorrow's departure.

Tomorrow I'll board at 8:20am and have the rest of the day to check out the ship, meet my fellow travelers and try to think of what I might need to run and buy before the trek across the Atlantic. That's all for now, I need to review some embarkation info for tomorrow.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I officially depart at 7:00am tomorrow morning from LAX and should arrive at the hotel in Halifax around 11:00pm. I’m anticipating a rather long and tedious travel day complete with thunderstorms during my layover in Detroit. Hopefully we won’t run into any delays.

As you can see on the itinerary below, we’re departing Halifax on Tuesday. At that point an interactive voyage map should be available on the Semester at Sea website complete with a ship position report icon and port info. Another great resource is the official voyage blog which can also be found on the website.

The itinerary:






Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada



June 15


Barcelona, Spain





June 24

June 27



Civitavecchia / Naples, Italy





June 29

July 05



Dubrovnik, Croatia





July 08

July 11



Piraeus (Athens), Greece





July 14

July 18



Istanbul, Turkey





July 20

July 24



Alexandria , Egypt





July 27

July 31



Casablanca, Morocco





August 07

August 10



Norfolk, VA USA



August 21


Thanks to everybody for their kind words encouraging a fun and safe time. It’s going to be pretty awesome, I can’t wait. I’ll try to keep this updated as much as possible. As for now, I’m off to bed as there’s quite a big day tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Summer (Part 2)

Four days. Bright and early Sunday morning I'll depart LAX for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ship will take off on Tuesday and the journey begins. I'm at the "pile of stuff versus suitcase" packing stage and the next challenge is getting the pile into the luggage. My sisters and the boys all came over on Sunday for a "bon voyage" dinner the other night. It was cool to see everybody before I head off and enjoy the amazing chicken.

I've often described my time since finishing the semester as a "few weeks off" but it's been pretty busy. My EMT license is set to expire this summer so I've been working through the recertification process. I've always wanted to take a PreHosptial Trauma Life Support (PHTLS) class and finally got the opportunity. It was quite an interesting class and definitely a good thing to have done. The curriculum is heavily based on research which presents some really interesting contradictions to the "accepted" scope of practice in many EMS systems. The highlight was my first successful mannequin intubation. I do my skills refresher tomorrow and then deal with the paperwork nightmare.

Casey, Julian, Jamie and I had the chance to visit Tani a few weeks ago for our second annual NorCal Adventure. We had quite a bit of fun eating (I was once again exposed to numerous exotic Asian foods) and visiting the surrounding area. A few other folks joined us last Thursday for the first annual LA Adventure. We took the Metrolink downtown and did a pretty intense walk hitting Union Station, the cathedral, LA Music Center (with a tour of all 4 halls), Angel's Flight, Central Market, LA Times Building, City Hall, Chinatown, and Philippe's.

I don't watch much TV during the semester so this could be really old but I recently saw a commercial by the Corn Refiners Association declaring a "sweet surprise" that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is all natural and just fine for you. They way they make HFCS out to be a wonderfully natural treat is just plain disturbing. Too bad there is significant clinical research linking HFCS consumption to obesity, Type II diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. But don't worry, it's all natural so that makes okay. For good reason, you can find quite a few parodies of the commercial: Parody 1, Parody 2, Parody 3.

A few weeks ago I came across the video of a UK public service commercial encouraging seat-belt use. It is not only an incredibly beautiful commercial but one of the most amazing and artful short videos I've ever seen. Check it out, I guarantee you'll get the chills.

That's all for now, I have to start thinking about packing. Stay tuned for the travel journal, coming soon.